Best Books About Antietam

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The Battle of Antietam hasn’t been as well documented as other Civil War battles like Gettysburg. As a result, there’s a smaller selection of good books on the topic.

To help you find the best ones, I’ve created this list of the best books about Antietam. Most of the books on the list are nonfiction but some are novels, field guides and even essay collections.

These books have great reviews on sites like Amazon and Goodreads, many of them are best-sellers and they have great reviews from critics.

I’ve also used many of these books in my research for this website so I can personally say they are some of the best on the topic.

The following is a list of the best books about Antietam:

(Disclaimer: This article contains Amazon affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.)

1. Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam by Stephen W. Sears

Published in 1983, this book by Stephen W. Sears is a narrative retelling of the Battle of Antietam.

Sears explains in the book’s introduction that he recreated the events using letters, diaries, dispatches, surveys of Civil War veterans and other primary source material:

“This account of the Maryland campaign, of the complex backdrop against which it was played, and of the desperate struggle along the banks of the Antietam is drawn in large part from the testimonies of eyewitnesses. There was in this setting – the pastoral Maryland countryside, the rugged terrain at Harper’s Ferry and South Mountain, the rolling farmland and open woodlots around Sharpsburg – a particular sense of history being made that set it apart from previous campaigning and inspired men to record their impressions in detail in journals and letters. Their accounts are an invaluable supplement to the official reports and dispatches and battlefield messages.”

The book received positive reviews when it was published. A review in the New York Times praised Sears’ writing style and compared him to notable Civil War author, Bruce Catton:

“The battle of Antietam, it could be argued, was an event of more resounding significance than the one at Gettysburg, and Mr. Sears is equal to all its complexities and ironies. He will probably grow tired of being compared to Bruce Catton, but the comparison will always be complimentary. Besides being an exact historian, Mr. Sears has, in measure equal to Catton’s, the novelist’s eye for the illuminating small event, for the fatal eccentricities of generals and politicians and for all that was awesome and pitiable in that furious encounter outside Sharpsburg.”

A review in the Washington Post also praised the book for its great writing:

“No other Civil War battle captures so much of the essence of that terrible, long-ago war; and no other book so vividly depicts that battle, the campaign that preceded it and the dramatic political events that followed.”

Newsweek called the book “Authoritative and graceful . . . a first-rate work of history” while the Chicago Tribune dubbed it “A modern classic.”

Stephen W. Sears is an author who has written a number of books about the Civil War, including Chancellorsville’ George B. Mcclellan: The Young Napoleon’ Gettysburg; The Gates of Richmond: The Peninsula Campaign; Lee’s Lieutenants: A Study in Command; Lincoln’s Lieutenants: The High Command of the Army of the Potomac.

Sears also served as editor of the Educational Department at the American Heritage Publishing Company.

2. Taken at the Flood: Robert E. Lee and Confederate Strategy in the Maryland Campaign of 1862 by Joseph L. Harsh

Published in 1998, this book by Joseph L. Harsh analyzes the military strategies and policies used in the battle of Antietam.

In the introduction, Harsh explains that the reason he wrote the book is because the Maryland campaign has been completely overshadowed by Gettysburg and is an important topic in dire need of more scholarly attention:

“Scholarship trailed were popular attention led. A long shelf grew heavy with volumes on Gettysburg, while for over a hundred years not a single serious historical study appeared that was devoted entirely to the Maryland campaign…The Maryland Campaign of 1862 is one of the most interesting, critical, dramatic, and potentially enlightening episodes in all of the United States history. It is a neatly defined canvas on which to study leaders compelled to make decisions of momentous consequences while stumbling forward with confused and conflicting information and while under the press of time and rapidly changing conditions. With the fate of their governments teetering on swaying scales, two men bore the responsibility for comprehending their situations and responding quickly and correctly. For a moment in history, Lee and McClellan became the focus of their nations’ destinies. There is much to be learned from their predicaments and their solutions, if understanding is the goal.”

The book received positive reviews when it was published. A review in the Washington Times described it as a tour de force:

“This is a tour de force challenging much of the conventional wisdom, both pro- and anti-Lee. Mr. Harsh’s signal contribution to understanding this campaign, and by extension to the war as a whole, is to transcend issues of personality–‘Robert the Bold vs. George the Timid’–in order to focus on strategic considerations.

Joseph L. Harsh was a professor and former chair of history at George Mason University. Harsh has written a number of books about the Maryland campaign including Confederate Tide Rising: Robert E. Lee and the Making of Southern Strategy; and Sounding the Shallows: A Confederate Companion for the Maryland Campaign of 1862.

3. Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam by James M. McPherson

Published in 2002, this book by James M. McPherson is about how the Battle of Antietam was a turning point in the Civil War.

In the book’s preface, McPherson explains that the Union victory at Antietam changed the future course of the war forever:

“The tremendous shock of that collision in the battle of war. Union victory at Antietam, limited though it was, arrested Southern military momentum, forestalled foreign recognition of the Confederacy, reversed a disastrous decline in the morale of Northern soldiers and civilians, and offered Lincoln the opportunity to issue a proclamation of emancipation. In a war with several crucial turning points, the battle of Antietam was the pivotal moment for the most crucial of them all. This book provides a map to guide readers to that crossroads of freedom at Sharpsburg.”

The book received positive reviews when it was published. A review on Salon.com praised the book for its great storytelling:

“this deceptively slim volume emphasizes why fine history is always worth reading. Don’t fear an arid chronicle of charging regiments. ‘Crossroads of Freedom’ is not specifically a work of military history. Rather, it meticulously, seemingly effortlessly, constructs a context through which the reader can clearly see the pivotal nature of the battle by witnessing its consequences. It delivers the ‘what if’ mode of historical writing, but always sticks to the facts. This is a great achievement.”

A review in the New Yorker described it as haunting:

“Haunting….In some of the letters of surviving soldiers, there is a sense that the horror would forever escape the capabilities of their language and remain lodged only in their nightmares.”

A review in the Boston Globe described the book as graceful and called it a gem:

“A graceful and engaging blend of McPherson’s scholarship and stylish writing….McPherson’s admirers know he amply demonstrated his talent for this style of writing on an epic scale in his Pulitzer Prize-winning ‘Battle Cry of Freedom,’ which covered the entire war….’Crossroads of Freedom’ is a small but valuable gem that similarly teaches and entertains.”

A review in the Washington Post described McPherson as a master and a preeminent historian:

“McPherson is the preeminent historian of the Civil War….His mastery extends from military affairs to politics to diplomacy, and he never loses sight of the human beings, both great and small, caught up in the war’s vortex….McPherson is a master of the miniature as well as the panorama, as he made plain in his two previous books about the loyalties and issues that inspired men on both sides of the Civil War. Indeed, by contrast with the earnest, step-by-step and shot-by-shot accounts of Gettysburg now being inflicted upon those of us who simply cannot read enough about the Civil War, ‘Crossroads of Freedom’ is a model of economy.”

James M. McPherson is Professor Emeritus of United States history at Princeton University and has written numerous books about the Civil War, including Battle Cry of Freedom; For Cause and Comrade: Why Men Fought in the Civil War; The War That Forged a Nation: Why The Civil War Still Matters. In 1998, McPherson won the Pulitzer Prize for his book Battle Cry of Freedom.

4. The Maryland Campaign of September 1862 by Ezra A. Carman

Published in 2008, this book by Union officer Ezra Carman is a retelling of the battle of Antietam based on interviews, letters and documents of the soldiers who fought in the battle.

Carman, who served as colonel of the 13th New Jersey Infantry at Antietam, decided to create a detailed battle map and full account of the battle shortly after it happened. He eventually wrote an 1,800 page manuscript on the battle, although its not known exactly when it was written. Although the manuscript was heavily utilized by scholars, it wasn’t published until 2008.

Carmen was an officer in the Union army, serving first as a lieutenant colonel, then a colonel and then a brigadier general before being mustered out of the army in March of 1865.

Carman later worked as a civil servant for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In 1866, the governor of New Jersey appointed him to serve as the state’s trustee on the Antietam National Cemetery Association and, in 1894, he was hired to serve as a historical expert at the Antietam National Battlefield.

Carman later served in the office of superintendent of Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Battlefield from 1905 until his death in 1909.

5. A Field Guide to Antietam: Experiencing the Battlefield through Its History, Places, and People by Carol Reardon and Tom Vossler

Published in 2016, this book Carol Reardon and Tom Vossler is a guidebook for the Antietam battlefield.

The book explores 21 sites on the battlefield where major military actions occurred in order to help readers better understand what exactly happened during the battle.

The events are presented in chronological order, beginning with an overview of the Maryland campaign that explains the reasons why the Confederate invasion happened and why the armies fought along the Antietam creek. Then it explains the fighting that occurred on September 17, dividing it into 21 stops across the battlefield. Then it ends with a summary of the effects of the battle on the war.

The book received positive reviews when it was published. A review in the journal of Louisiana history praised the book for its clarity, explaining that it distinguishes it from the various other Antietam field guides:

“One thing that sets this guide apart from the others is its clarity. At each of the twenty-one stops, the authors make it easy for readers to orient themselves and understand what happened…In only twenty-six pages, Reardon and Vossler skillfully take their readers through the choas and carnage of the fighting in the Bloody Lane, leaving them with a clear understanding of the violence.”

Carol Reardon is a history professor at Pennsylvania State University and is the author of numerous books about the Civil War, such as Places and People; and With a Sword in One Hand and Jomini In The Other: The Problem of Military Thought in Civil War North.

Tom Vossler is the former director of the U.S. Army Military History Institute in Pennsylvania and is also a licensed battlefield tour guide. Vossler is the author of two battlefield guides: A Field Guide to Antietam and a Field Guide to Gettysburg.

6. The Antietam Campaign Edited by Gary W. Gallagher

Published in 1999, this book is a series of essays about the famous battle by various notable historians.

In the introduction, Gallagher explains that the essays do not provide an overview of the events of the battle but instead explore various frequently asked questions:

“The essays that follow do not provide a chronological narrative of the Maryland campaign. Anyone seeking such a treatment should consult Stephen W. Sear’s well-researched and beautifully written Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam. Nor do the essays touch on all the major military figures who fought in the campaign or on the range of nonmilitary factors that influenced or were influenced by what transpired in Maryland. As with all titles in the Military Campaigns of the Civil War series, the goal is to explore a variety of questions and topics with an eye towards underscoring the potential of Civil War military operations as subjects for research and interpretation…As a group, the essays expand our understanding of the Maryland campaign, its impact at the time, and the ways in which later Americans chose to remember or learn from it.”

The book received positive reviews when it was published. A review in the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography praised the book for its great insight and historical analysis:

“The essays in this volume, as in the earlier entries in this fine series, show that it is still possible for scholars to explore new and challenging interpretations of the legendary but familiar battles of the Civil War. Blending tactical and strategic analysis with insights into social, cultural, political, and economic trends, The Antietam Campaign is fascinating and instructive. . . . It should inspire historians of the Middle Period to adopt a similarly rigorous, analytical approach to the study of the war’s battles.”

A review in the Civil War History journal described it as the standard book on Antietam:

The Antietam Campaign succeeds wonderfully in its goal of exploring ‘a variety of questions and topics with an eye toward underscoring the potential of Civil War military operations as subjects for research and interpretation.’ The book deserves a place on bookshelves next to the standard monographs about the Battle of Sharpsburg.

A review in the Richmond Times-Dispatch described the book as “a far-ranging and provocative collection of essays. As intended, it both informs and challenges” while Civil War News said it was “A well-crafted collection of reasoned and thought provoking examinations of issues revolving around the battle. Your Antietam library is incomplete without it.”

A review in the Journal of Southern History described the book as both informative and entertaining:

This collection of essays edited by Professor Gary Gallagher offers entertaining passages, interesting details, and thought-provoking ideas. The entries in the book also have complementary strengths: some are valuable for the wealth of their information, others are valuable for the depth of their analyses. All of them are enjoyable to read. This volume should attract a large and varied audience.”

A review in the North Carolina Historical review highly recommended the book:

“In this book, Gallagher again demonstrates that he is willing to challenge traditional and recent revisionist interpretations of the Civil War with equal energy. He and this team of writers collectively combat the popular and often incorrect interpretations of the war. The Antietam Campaign offers many new insights and is highly recommended to the serious student of the Civil War.”

A review in Virginia Magazine of History and Biography describes Gallagher’s collection of essays as stunning:

“In the Antietam Campaign he forges ten finely crafted essays into a stunning piece of scholarship. . . . Engagingly written, the essays provide an abundance of fresh and noteworthy insights that should stimulate further research into other topics. . . . For any serious student or reader, this set of essays is mandatory reading.

Gary W. Gallagher is a professor of history at the University of Virginia. He has written a number of books about the Civil War, including The Confederate War; The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History; Three Days at Gettysburg.

7. Guide to the Battle of Antietam Edited by Jay Luvaas and Harold W. Nelson

Published in 1996, this book is both a guide book and a comprehensive battle study of the battle of Antietam.

As explained in the introduction, the purpose of the book is to help readers answer important questions about how, why and where the battle happened:

“Like the Guide to the Battle of Gettysburg that preceded it, this is intended to serve two purposes. To those interested in the Maryland campaign of 1862 or the battles of South Mountain, Crampton’s Gap, Harpers Ferry and Antietam, it should enable the reader to locate points – many of them unidentified historical markers – where critical or fascinating events occurred that help explain how the battle was fought or why leaders on both sides acted as they did. To the soldiers visiting these sites, this Guide may also help to raise the broader questions about tactics, organization, leadership, unit cohesion, the use of terrain, and the application of principles that are fundamental to his profession. In either case this volume is intended to be enjoyed as a book as well as used for a self-guided tour on the field.”

Jay Luvaas and Harold W. Nelson are editors who have published a number of guide books about Civil War battles, including Guide to the Battle of Gettysburg; Guide to the Atlanta Campaign; Guide to the Battle of Shiloh; and Guide to the Battles of Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg.

Sources:
“The Antietam Campaign.” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 107, Iss. 3; 1999; pp: 328-329. Smith, Michael Thomas. “Book Review: The Antietam Campaign, by Gary W. Gallagher.” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, vol.124, number 4, Oct. 2000, journals.psu.edu/pmhb/article/view/45423/45144
Barloon, Mark, et al. Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association, vol. 59, no. 2, 2018, pp. 237–240. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/26475485.
Noyalas, Jonathan. “Clemens (ed.): The Maryland Campaign of September 1862, (2017).” Civil War Monitor, 7 June. 2017, www.civilwarmonitor.com/book-shelf/clemens-ed-the-maryland-campaign-of-september-1862-2017
Whittemore, Katherine. “’Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam 1862.’ by James McPherson.” Salon.com, 17 Sept. 2002, www.salon.com/2002/09/17/mcpherson/
“BEA Books Book Review Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam 1862 by James McPherson.” Publisher’s Weekly, www.publishersweekly.com/0-19-513521-0
“America’s Bloodiest Battle.” Washington Post, 19 June. 1983, www.washingtonpost.com/archive/entertainment/books/1983/06/19/americas-bloodiest-day/bbbf7d89-9ec3-456f-b8af-25d28bdafbdd/
Keneally, Thomas. “Where the South’s Fortunes Turned.” New York Times, 7 Aug. 1983, www.nytimes.com/1983/08/07/books/where-the-south-s-fortunes-turned.html
“Suggested Reading List – Antietam National Battlefield.” NPS.gov, National Parks Service, www.nps.gov/anti/learn/education/suggested-reading-list.htm
Schulte, Brett. “Top 5 Civil War Books on the Battle of Antietam and the Maryland Campaign of 1862.” TOCWOC, 20 April. 2009, www.brettschulte.net/CWBlog/2009/04/20/top-5-civil-war-books-on-the-battle-of-antietam-and-the-maryland-campaign-of-1862/

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